Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Written by Assoc Prof Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, Clinical Psychologist and Founding President of the MSCP
A vital part of a child’s growth is their cognitive development. ‘Cognitive’ refers to anything that involves mental processing such as perception, learning, memory, logical reasoning, decision-making, problem-solving, language development and creativity.
Academic skills are only a small subset of mind development because formal education in schools tend to be rigidly tied to a fixed curriculum that do not necessarily tap into other areas of cognitive development.
Any mental development meant for children should be more holistic and go beyond formal schooling. This is where extra-curricular activities can help with facilitating academic abilities and other mental or mind-development components.
What are Mind Games?
Basically, any activity that facilitates or triggers thinking that involves problem-solving, reasoning, memory and creativity can be called a mind game. They can also include social and emotional reasoning games because socio-emotional development is very much tied to cognitive development.
Think of mind games as the scaffolding structure to your child’s learning. As your child learns new knowledge from formal learning or vicarious (casual) learning, she needs to climb higher to get more knowledge and understanding. These scaffolding of cognitive abilities help her climb higher in the realm of academic knowledge (e.g. such as reading, writing, calculating, memorising, organising, planning ahead, sequencing, and following rules).
The use of mind games to cultivate mental development in children has to be age-appropriate and progressive. This way the skills learnt can benefit real-life learning/applications.
What Type of Mind Games Are Best?
Typical examples of mind games are memory games and puzzles. Memory games are usually the simplest as they require children to memorise a certain picture, number or symbol. Some memory games also require strategising where children need to remember sequences in order to win the game. So memory games may look simple but can involve many other components of cognition.
From pen and paper puzzles (e.g. Sudoku) and manual puzzles (e.g. Rubik’s cube) to digital application puzzles (e.g. tablet or smartphone games), there are all sorts of puzzles to be played. Classic games such as card or board games that utilise dice and perhaps fake money help children to count by heart. Some of these card and board games also require the players to strategise their play to win. In strategising, children learn to be creative in problem solving.
Apart from problem-solving in physical or numerical logical reasoning, other mind games may use more verbal reasoning such as word games, anagrams, riddles, and Scrabble-like games. They help improve vocabulary, comprehension and the use of language while improving cognitive abilities in processing words or language-related activities. These games could have real-life applications for children especially in school because it can facilitate their speed of learning.
While typical puzzles involve direct problem-solving activities, some puzzles can be more indirect in that they require more social and emotional input in decision-making or reasoning. A simple example of this is the ‘matching occupations’ game which involves role playing to guess each other’s occupation. Games with social stories can be used in recognising and managing emotions, as well as social problem-solving.
These social reasoning games are best played with a friend, so that actual interaction can occur and help provide social feedback for play and self-regulation. These types of games also help in forming friendships that strengthens self-esteem, self-efficacy and confidence in children. Even non-social games that are played in a multiplayer setting help to facilitate social skills in children.
It is important for mind games to be made applicable to daily life activities such as social situations, economic pursuits, and environmental issues so that children learn the value of their cognitive abilities, in relation to their role as individuals in society. This helps instil a better sense of belonging, self-efficacy and general psycho-social well-being. As parents, it is your duty to explain to your child how skills from the game can be applied to real life.
These days, it is very easy to obtain mind games online but you should also ensure that your child is exposed to manual games which help train their motor movements as well. See a professional psychologist or specialised educator for help if you are unsure of how to use mind games for your children.
A clinical psychologist is a professionally qualified mental health professional who practices within the field of clinical psychology. Clinical psychology is a specialist field within the discipline of psychology where practitioners are trained to conduct psychological assessments of feelings, behavior and thoughts to contribute to understanding a psychological disorder and to diagnose it. Clinical psychologists are also trained to conduct psychological interventions on individual or groups living with psychological disorders or related problems such as intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. It is important to note that not every clinical psychologist can address every psychological issue or disorder because no one’s training is possibly that wide. Be careful with psychologists who claim to be able to assess and treat a wide variety of disorders and have a very long list of credentials. If in doubt, do check with the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychologists (MSCP).